Roads Were Especially Important to the District's Original Settlers p.36
The Post Office p.38
Tofield Telephones p.41
The Lake p.44
Roads in the Tofield Area
(Material for this article is taken from an account left by Mr. Jack Cookson.)
Roads have always been vital to communications. The lack of them was one of the real hardships of the pioneer era.
The buffalo trails were probably the first, and not the worst roads, for they would follow the high, less heavily treed ground. Horseback riders could follow these with ease, but when the wagons containing settlers' effects must be brought in, these trails proved too narrow and too crooked. Sloughs, soft ground, creeks over which no bridges were yet built, steep hills - all proved major hazards in bringing in settlers' equipment.
In spite of the trouble involved, the pioneers did travel .... to Edmonton, to Wetaskiwin and for social gatherings.
As soon as the pioneers had their first major needs of food and shelter cared for they began to attack the problem of roads.
Mr. Jack Cookson has left us an account of how the first major roads were built.
To get to Edmonton, one could go around north of the hills by Fort Saskatchewan, which made the trip 65 miles long. Or one could go around south of the Beaver Hills by Hay Lakes which was 90 miles. Mr. Cookson says, "The first road was a shortcut from upper Ross Creek to the Nelson and Becker settlement, southeast of Fort Saskatchewan.
The next road was a trail from the Coombes place to Hastings Lake instigated by a man named Webster, as
-sisted by Owens, Leggi, Walsh, Neal and others. It was difficult to travel, even in winter. The next trail was the Inkster Trail. Frank Oliver was our member in the Legislature of the N. W. T. and got an appropriation to help put a trail through from Cooking Lake to South Beaver Lake. Oliver promised Inkster the whole of $200.00 to take a wagon through to the lake in summer. He did it, but found numerous sloughs and went close to them to save chopping trees through the dense brush. The result was a crooked trail that Inkster got his wagon through and drew the $200.00. If there had been an inspection of the trail it would never have been approved because no one would have wanted to travel it more than once. Mr. Neal called it a "deathtrap." It came out at the Lake where Mr. Ed Kallal lived on the north side of Ketchamoot Creek. (Now the home of the Stan Schacher family).
The next trail was the community trail built by volunteer help from Hunts to Cooking Lake. Everyone interested took hold. Lafond canvassed the merchants of South Edmonton and received donations of flour, tea, coffee, bacon and beans and even a keg of beer. A good job was done and all were proud of it. It became a much travelled road.
The next road was the baseline trail from Ross Creek to Edmonton, government built with a cut-off road for South Beaver Lake settlers. This cut-off trail struck the baseline road some ten miles from the lake. This road went past the John Phillips farm (now J. C. Warner's home) across the farm till recently occupied by T. R. Murray through Harold Weatherill's place north through the present forest reserve."
None of these roads could be travelled with heavy loads during wet times for there would be boggy spots but for light travel, they cut off a lot of mileage, for around the Beaver Hills, either north or south., it was some eighty miles to Edmonton.
As we travel over our modern black-topped highways to Edmonton in less than an hour, we salute the pluck of the pioneers who first plodded their way through the Beaver Hills.
When early settlers arrived in Beaverhill Lake area about 1886, Edmonton was the nearest post office so mail was brought out to this area whenever one of the settlers made a trip to Edmonton.
In the early 1890's the Logan post office of Tofield was started with Mr. Roderick McKenzie as post-master. At that time the mail was brought from Edmonton to Fort Saskatchewan. From here it was picked up by the local mail carrier and transported to the Logan post office from whence it was collected by the owners every two weeks or so.
In 18971, George Cookson, Sr. became the first post master in the newly-granted Tofield Post Office. This first post office consisted of a small log shack with a sod roof which was overlaid with boards to protect it somewhat from the rain. Later, a shingled roof was constructed.
Billy Rowland was one of the first mail carriers . His task was made extremely difficult by the condition of the road at any time and during the "rainy years" 1899-1903, the roads were almost impassable due to the rain-swollen creeks and sloughs spreading their areas.
When the Canadian Northern Railroad came through Chipman, the mail was routed from Chipman to Logan Post Office and from there to Tofield an on to Northern -- later Bardo.
About the time the Canadian Government bought the Pueblo herd of buffalo in Montana, and decided to keep them in Elk Island Park, William Rowland had an unusu-
al experience while on his mail route. The animals., after being shipped [to] Lamont were unloaded to be driven to Elk Island Park. From this drive, several animals escaped and proceeded to enjoy their freedom by roaming over the countryside. Mr. Rowland, driving with his load of mail for Logan, Tofield and Bardo met one of these large animals. He was not carrying a gun and thinking it would be wise to play it safe, he abandoned his rig and hid under a nearby bridge. The buffalo not being interested in the news of the day, calmly went on feeding. When the buffalo had passed by, grazing as he went, Mr. Rowland proceeded on his journey.
Mr. Cookson, Tofield's first postmaster, received the munificent sum of twelve dollars for his first year's service; he also sold thirty-six dollars worth of stamps. Mr. Jevning of Bardo received seven dollars for his first year's work, but during his second year., his salary jumped to ten dollars with a commission on the sale of stamps. Undoubtedly, Mr. Cookson's salary was also increased by commissions on stamps as well. as those on postal notes.
When Tofield was moved to the Craft, Lee and Gallinger property (near the present site of the school) C. H. Cress was appointed postmaster and held that position in 1907 and 1908. Mr. Cress was also the proprietor of a dry-goods store and was, understandable, ruffled when asked to make out a money order for twenty or thirty dollars for the T. Eaton Co. in payment of an order for dry goods. Such parcels had to be picked up at Camrose as their large wooden containers were too large for the mail service to handle. One year, nobody received an Eaton's catalogue and while no investigation was made, people had their own ideas for the lack of "Eaton's bibles."
When the town moved to its present site, the post office again changed hands. This time, Mr. C. E. Jameison became postmaster. It was said he obtained the position because he was a good Liberal and the Liberals were in power. In 1911, the Dominion Government became Conservative and J. W. Somers became the Tofield
postmaster. In 1918 Mr. A. A. Beirnes succeeded to Mr. Somers' position. About this time postmasters became civil servants and politics ceased to play a part in their appointment.
Following Mr. Beirnes came Mr. A. B. Clutterham as postmaster, a post which he retired from 1922-1949. Mr. Drew held the position after A. B. Clutterham's retirement until 1952 when the present postmaster, Norman E. Glover took over. Miss Edith Davison has been Mr. Glover's assistant up until the first part of 1968 when she married James Lancaster, and retired from the Post Office.
During the time that Tofield has had a post office the location of the building has changed many times. Beginning on the farm now owned by John Rempel, it moved to the north end of Main Street in townsite No. 2, to the north half of what was Braces's Store (later the O.K. Store), to the site of Bert Everitt's present store, to south of the present site of George Mcfadzean's drug store, to the small brick building south of the former Bank of Montreal (now owned by Conrad Patterson). The present post office was built in 1961 and continues to serve the public well. The staff in 1968 consisted of: Mr. N. Glover, Mrs. Evelyn Nolan (Assistant Postmaster), Mrs. Annie Hunley, Mrs. Joyce Hardy.
The rural routes started about 1912. Routes 1, 2, 3 and 4 were begun close together. Rural mailmen included: Thomas Herndon, Wallace Herndon, Bill Bailey, Gunder Thompson, D. G. McCarthy, John Jones, Herman Tiedemann, Bill Hay. In 1967, the mailmen are Henry Heitman on Routes 1 and 2; Allen Herndon on Routes 3 and 4. In 1968, J. Graham Allan replaced Henry Heitman.
In 1909, the first telephone office was established in Jamieson's drug store with Clara McHeffey as its first operator. She was followed in 1910 by Amanda Henderson (Mrs. Will Mitchell) who in turn was succeeded by Amy Morton (Mrs. Dobson) Jack Letourneau and Olive Letourneau. (Mrs. Spence). At this time, the switchboard was open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
By 1915, the drug store had moved to what was later Bert Calvert's pool hall - now the site of Watson's Ltd. and the switchboard moved with it. Mary Bethel (Mrs. John Wood)and Mildred Carter (Mrs. 0. P. Thomas) were the operators. The calls to the switchboard were shown by rotating balls - the red side of the ball announcing that someone was calling "Central."
After the gasoline lamp used to provide light in the telephone office exploded and burned the place down, the office was moved to a location north of Swift's garage. By this time (1916) Tofield had continuous service; the operators concerned were: Beatrice Scott, Mary Nichol, Hazel Bowick, Mildred Bethel, Alma Bethel, Minnie Wood, Annie Hopgood, Jessie Hopgood. The telephone service men were: Ed Ruzua, Ray Herndon, Arthur Taylor, Gordon Hasler and W. 0. Glover.
The first rural 'phone line was in the Ingram district; W. Thomson's and the George Cooksons were the first two families able to talk on a rural line. There was also one "barbed-wire" telephone between the R. C. Phillips and the W. Abernethy homes. Rural lines expanded rapidly until the depression era, during which time many farmers found it economically necessary to give up the government telephones and replace them with barbed-wire phones. On these, neighbour could talk to neighbor and since at least one family in each area had retained the "high-line" phone, messages could be relayed to and from the operator in Tofield.
During the middle and late '30's the mutual telephone companies as we know them came into being. These were: Bardo-Grand Forks; Beaver Lake; Beaverhill, Brookside; Ketchamoot Creek; Barnes; Lindbrook; Stirret; Tofield East; Tofield South; Willow Flats; Woodstead and Mac Lake Mutual Telephone Companies.
These phone companies served an area from Highway 16 to the Kingman area; east to Shonts and west to Ross Creek.
Mr. W. 0. Glover, local plant inspector, retired in 1939 after which time all services were taken care of by inspectors from Edmonton.
During 1940, an exchange building was constructed which came into operation on July 9, a new switchboard and a sound-proof booth were installed. In 1956, still another switchboard was installed and the process was repeated in 1959.
Miss Lorett Ross, now of St. Albert, was chief operator for many years. Under her, at various times worked Neva Wood (Mrs. P. Spangler); Ethel McClymont (Mrs. Freeman Hill); Esther Jacobs (Mrs. Anderson) Mary Nahrebeski; Ethel Scott (Mrs. Brown); Vivian Shaw (Mrs. Garbarz); Pat Burnett (Mrs. N. Glover); Lois Thompson (Mrs. Burnett); Goldie Jacobs; Hazel Young; Frances Hardy (Mrs. O. Reum); Emily Carlisle; Jean McGuire (Mrs Van Dewark); Edith Davison (Mrs. J. Lancaster); Betty Stinson (Mrs. Brooks).
After 1947 and until the exchange closed at the introduction of dial phones in 1964, Emily Carlisle was the chief operator. In addition to some of the foregoing operators, the following have worked under Emily Carlisle: Doris Oslund (Mrs. M. Schacker); Margaret McAllister (Mrs. Allan Pointer); Enid Blake; Ruth Torrie (Mrs. Good); Olga Shewchuk; Ella Campbell; Betty Townsend; Margaret Myers; Doreen Lee; Ivy May; Myrtle LaRocque; Yvonne Kendall; Ellen Ferguson (Mrs. Hoflin); Marianne Guenard; Joanne Boyles (Mrs. Lernowich); Mavis Mitchell (Mrs. McLeod); Vera Lukasiewich (Mrs.G.Warner).
Mary Stevenson; Mary Moore; Lena Boese; Mary Shemko (Mrs. J. Thiessen); Olivia Lukasiewich (Mrs. Lazarenko), Joan Herndon; Doreen Garbe; Verna Enns (Mrs. Epp); Jean Williams; Darlene LaRocque (Mrs. Williams); Pat Stevenson, Louisa Vickner; Pat Brown.
In 1964 dial phones came to the Tofield area and the phone exchange was closed to be replaced by the present telephone building. Direct distance dialing came into effect in 1966.
If it could only talk, what stories Beaverhill Lake could tell! Once containing millions of fish, it is now only a sheet of water to look at, a source of water for stock, and a safe landing place for uncounted varieties of birds.
According to Mr. William Rowland, a one-time employee of Hudson's Bay Co., who homesteaded the land on which the Tofield Creamery now stands; "In 1885, the buffalo had to go to the springs in the centre of Beaverhill Lake for water." Between this time of low water and in 1902 when the record high water mark of the lake was established, a considerable amount of bush must have grown in what was once the lake because Mr. J. R. Francis can remember as a small boy the piles of driftwood of willow and poplar that piled up on the shore line of Beaverhill Lake.
Mr. Pete Lerbekmo has stated that between 1895 and 1897, when he and his father rowed over to "the point" trees four or five inches in diameter were standing in the water but were no longer alive and the great blue herons were nesting in the dry branches.
In the fall of 1899, a rainy cycle that lasted till 1903 replaced the dry years, and the lake is reported to have risen 18 feet. On taking soundings in the lake in 1965, J. R. Francis and D. W. Jacobs calculated that the lake would have had to rise 12 feet to achieve the 1902 level and 10 feet to reach even 1917 level.
"The point" situated towards the south end of the lake was commonly called "Francis Point." In 1903, it consisted of five islands; there were two channels between the islands deep enough for a boat to be rowed across.
Raspberries grew in abundance along the banks and people came from miles around to pick them.
From 1905 to 1910,the lake receded sufficiently to allow much of the once-submerged land to be cultivated. Until the rainy fall of 1915, the water level remained fairly constant but from then till 1917, it rose steadily. This steady rise was the cause of a petition circulated among the farmers bordering the lake that the government lower the level of the lake. By the time the government had the necessary wheels of action in motion and a survey made to ascertain the cost to each land-owner, nature had done the job. This was fortunate for the survey showed that a ditch 22 feet wide, 8 feet deep in places and 8 miles long would have been necessary to lower the water level by 3 feet artificially and the job would have taken three years. By 1922, the water level had returned to that of 1910. By 1929, the driest year recalled by the residents of the area, the lake had dropped 4 or 5 feet. The level remained much the same until 1950 - 5l when the lake came close to drying up completely.
In these two years, a certain gas company prepared to put a seismograph crew on the lake. First they obtained two Allis-Chalmer tractors equipped with steel rear wheels built 32 inches wide and of the usual height. The machinery was then mounted, front and rear, on these specially adapted tractors. The east side of the lake was selected as the initial site of the enterprise but success eluded the workers. The front wheels just slid in the mud and would not turn.
So a large steel barge 36' by 24' and 30" high was constructed and the machinery mounted on the barge so as to distribute its weight evenly. This worked from south to north along the east shore which is the deepest part of the lake. However, success was not to be theirs. One day when the wind was from the south east, the crew decided to strike out in a westerly direction. During the day they seemed to be successful but that night the wind dropped, and the water settled down leaving the machinery-bearing barge stranded in the mud. All winter it remained in its muddy location; when spring came the crew thawed it out and removed it. In 1967 the water level is approximately that of 1930.
In 1914-15 there was no snow on the lake the latter part of February, and since its surface was smoothly frozen, three ice boats were constructed by local residents. Harry Rogers and Dawson Manners owned one of them.
When the lake froze in the winter a crack would form running parallel to the shore line. Sometimes the ice would pile up in a inverted V shape and at other times one sheet of ice would slide over the others. One particular Sunday afternoon, aided by a strong northwest wind, the trio of iceboats sailed east along, the crack, well over to the east side of the lake and came back along the north side. When they began to look for a spot to cross the crack, it was not easily found. They spied a spot where the north sheet of ice slid over the south sheet. It looked like a fairly level crossing so they taxied around, and came at this gentler slope at about sixty miles per hour. After briefly "sailing through the air with the greatest of ease," they landed - luckily - right side up. Stopping to observe what had launched their spectacular takeoff, they found they had climbed a six-foot ridge and sailed through the air for seventy-five feet before they made their next contact with the ice. Dawson Manners' reaction to this experience was that, while he would not take a thousand dollars for the experience, he would not take ten thousand for a repetition of it.
In the spring of 1917, the ice had moved north on the lake and it looked as it that might be the last of it that winter. One morning, about 9 a.m. the wind freshened from the northwest and drove the ice before it across the lake. Hitting the north shore of the point, the ice was flung 80 rods inland in a pile 25 feet high and a mile and a half long. The easterly part of the floating ice missed the point and landed on the south shore of the lake.
During the years 1922 - 1931, Dr. William Rowan of the University of Alberta, accompanied by other naturalists used Francis Point as a site for collecting information about birds. Here, in a patch of bulrushes
ten feet high growing in two feet of water, gulls built their nests among the flattened last-year's rushes. In a nest the size of two hands put together, the female gull would lay three brownish eggs. Dr. Rowan estimated that 40,000 gulls were hatched each spring in this area. Mr. Francis along with several others one day helped Dr. Rowan band 2,000 of the baby gulls which looked like turkey poults. They worked in two feet of water underlaid with plenty of mud.
In all, 239 species of birds were identified and collected on the Point. Even mice were plentiful; one morning the hundred mouse traps set out by Dr. Rowan the previous evening displayed over 40 different kinds of mice.
During the years, many a coyote has lost its life on or around the lake. Hounds have taken their toll and when the ice was sufficiently smooth, men with guns have used cars as a means of eliminating coyotes.
Dr. Bain once wanted a chance to chase coyotes on ice, so when Jim Francis reported ideally smooth ice, they started after the elusive coyote. The coyote enjoyed the run but eventually turned towards the shore. Dr. Bain's car had less traction than the coyote and spun completely around eleven times before straightening out. Disheartened, Dr. Bain sighed, "I guess that's it," and headed for home.
Many a winter trail across the frozen lake provided a welcome shortcut for the pioneer. Sometimes this trackless shortcut confused the traveller and lured him into travelling in a circle. Snow blindness was another hazard faced by the pioneers when they walked over the frozen expanse of the lake.
Sometime about 1909-10, six young men took this steamboat out for a ride on the lake. Part of their equipment for the trip consisted of a couple of bottles of liquor which they soon consumed. They were in high spirits and quite oblivious to the fact that their fuel supply was inadequate. They had embarked from the
p.48 north west shore of the lake, and soon were speeded on their way by a brisk wind from the northwest whipping up the four-foot waves which are so quickly aroused on a shallow lake. Now their coal supply gave out and they were at the mercy of the storm.
They were not what would be called a praying group but they earnestly sought Divine help as no other was available. One report has it that "same prayed and some tore up floorboards to use as fuel, each according to his belief." However, after a two-hour, twelve mile voyage over the deep lake, the sailors drifted in to the east shore of the lake. They obtained a horse drawn buggy from a nearby settler and drove back to Tofield to the relief of their families and friends who had feared the worst.
There were many fine bathing beaches along the south and north shores but summer resorts never developed from them. A few years ago, the Mundare Fish and Game Association developed a recreation area complete with slides, swings, barbecues, etc. This proved to be a success.
"Fish Stories" abound in the area surrounding the lake, but this is one with a different twist; the "big one" did not get away. Two early pioneers, Lafond and Letourneau, being short of feed for their pigs, built a fish trap in Ketchamoot Creek. From here, they secured fish by wagon loads and fed them to their porkers. This solved one problem but created another, for after the slaughtered, frozen fish-fed pigs had been sold on the Edmonton market that market ceased to exist. After one experience of this fish-flavored pork, the buyers would accept no more pork from Beaverhill Lake area until they had first fried and tasted it! Fish is fine as fish, but not as pork!
Thus since the days the Crees paddled over its glassy surface, Beaverhill Lake has been an integral part of the Tofield area and a factor in its development.
......J. R. Francis